2004 IPFA dinner remarks

International Press Freedom Awards

Remarks by Ann Cooper, Executive Director of CPJ

At this event we celebrate the courage of individual journalists and we demonstrate our collective determination to thwart forces that would silence the press.

Those collective efforts over the past 12 months have helped win the early release of journalists imprisoned for their work in Tunisia, in Morocco, in China, Pakistan and Cuba. And collectively, working with major U.S. and Latin American publishers this year, we helped defend a journalist accused of criminal libel in a landmark case for Latin America.

The August verdict that overturned the criminal libel conviction of Costa Rican reporter Mauricio Herrera Ulloa significantly strengthens a growing body of international law that confirms the right to free expression and rejects the notion that journalists can be thrown in prison just for their words. CPJ works throughout the world to establish such principles.

But systemic reforms and broad human rights principles are often long-term goals. Day in, day out, we are working to keep journalists out of prison and out of harm’s way, so they can report the news without threat and the public can receive the news from a choice of independent sources, not just from government propagandists.

We sound warnings about deteriorating conditions–such as those right now in Russia and most of the former Soviet Union, where the press today is less free that it was in the final years of Soviet communism.

We go to Russia … to Bangladesh … to the Democratic Republic of Congo … to wherever journalists need our support to press the case for press freedom.

We go to the Pentagon in Washington D.C. to push for policies that can increase the security of correspondents in Iraq.

When emergency rescues are called for, our journalist assistance program may be able to help, as you will see in this video about our work of the past year.

Our thanks to CPJ board member Dave Marash and editor Thomas Fasano, both of ABC, and especially to producer Susan Aasen for helping us tell our story, and the stories of the 2004 CPJ International Press Freedom awardees.

Remarks by Tony Ridder, Chairman & CEO of Knight Ridder and IPFA Dinner Chairman

Thank you, Gwen.

Let me begin by saying that it is a privilege to chair this dinner, and I want to thank David Laventhol, Ann Cooper and their CPJ colleagues for the opportunity to do so. Rarely is it possible to “give back” in so meaningful a way.

Like many in this room, I have spent portions of the past three years watching some of the most talented journalists in our organization and yours volunteer for assignments in Afghanistan and Iraq. I have read, watched and listened to their dispatches . . . as have you . . . and wondered at both the hardships they endure and the dangers they face . . . as have you.

Their reports are vivid. During the recent siege of Falluja, it was impossible not to feel the bullets flying. In many of the accounts, it was clear that bodies were falling right next to our correspondents. Here, for example, is an excerpt from a report that appeared in my Mercury News only eight days ago:

“When Sims and his men came through the front door, gunfire raged for a few minutes. Two soldiers were hit near the shoulder. Crouching by a wall outside, Sgt. Randy Laird screamed into his radio, ‘Negative, I cannot move, we’re pinned down right now! We have friendlies down! Friendlies down!

“A line of troops ran up, taking cover from the bullets. They shot their way into the house. Sims lay on a kitchen floor, his blood pouring across dirty tile. His men gasped. There was no life in his eyes.”

“He’s down,” Staff Sgt. Thorsten Lamm, 37, said in the heavy brogue of his native Germany. The men sprinted to a rubble-strewn house to get a medic. When the troops rushed back, they lifted Sims’ body into a pile of blankets and carried it into the closest Bradley.

“Six soldiers and a reporter piled in after, trying not to step on the body.”

Who here has not worried for the safety of such correspondents? Who has not wondered if the only responsible thing was to tell them: Don’t go. Not now. It’s too dangerous.

If the mission of the Committee to Protect Journalists is to ensure that our colleagues can pursue their work throughout the world unhindered and unharmed, the war in Iraq dramatizes for us all how challenging that goal can be.

The good news, of course, is that relatively few of the world’s trouble spots are actual theaters of war. The bad news is: Journalists in many of those other places find themselves very much in harm’s way, regardless. Consider, if you would, these examples from the CPJ’s 2004 program report:

* February: A mission to Bangladesh to highlight a string of attacks against journalists, all brutal and all unpunished. CPJ representatives pushed political leaders to take responsibility for the action of party militants, generated widespread attention and increased pressure on the government to prosecute crimes against journalists.

* June: A trip to Togliatti, Russia highlighted Russia’s disgraceful record in the contract-style killing of local journalists. Two editors of the same paper were killed within 18 months. CPJ representatives met with journalists, families of the slain editors and officials in the local prosecutor’s office to press for justice in these and other cases. One stayed on in Moscow to research a special report on the dangers facing journalists covering the Chechen conflict.

* September: Two CPJ representatives traveled to Tijuana to investigate the June 22 murder of Zeta editor Francisco Ortiz Franco. A special report on the investigation will be issued soon. Latin America, as will not surprise you, receives considerable attention from CPJ. Castro’s Cuba, Haiti and Columbia are three high-profile destinations for the Committee’s missions.

Apart from direct physical assaults, CPJ has concerned itself this year with defamation, imprisonment and enough other flavors of repression that we are reminded, as ever, of this truth:

Freedom of the press is precious – and despite what our Constitution says, it is not a guarantee. Much of the world has no use for it, and right here in our own backyard, many appointed and elected authorities challenge it. To protect this privilege requires constant vigilance. It requires all the care and feeding, all the Freedom of Information requests and amicus curiae briefs we can muster.

Thus in July, the Committee published a briefing looking at allegations of political interference at the Voice of America. In August, it sent a letter to Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge asking him to support legislation that would allow foreign journalists from “friendly” nations to enter the U.S. without an I-visa.

Most significantly, the Committee has issued alerts expressing concern about the number of current contempt rulings that could send U.S. reporters to jail for refusing to reveal confidential sources. Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper’s cases are the most prominent, but all are blatant attempts both to “hinder” and to “harm” the pursuit of truth.

The Committee to Protect Journalists is a standard-bearer for all the freedoms of the press. That is: the freedom to seek and retrieve and interpret, without interference, all that is real and true and meaningful in a tumultuous world. And: the freedom to pass it along – to the next reader, the next listener, the next viewer, the next generation, without a filter.

This is noble work. It is the lifeblood of what we do with our lives every day. It is what binds us together as the “journalistic community” – and that’s not just a phrase; it’s a calling. We are here tonight because it is not sufficient to read dispatches and worry. We must act. By your presence in this room, I know you share these convictions. You are acting. And I thank you profoundly for your support.